Predicting Georgia’s season, game by game

Sept. 3, North Carolina (Georgia Dome), 5:30 p.m.: If I’m Kirby Smart, I love this as an opener — playing a ranked opponent that has lost its starting quarterback and yielded 645 yards in a bowl loss, and you’re doing it on a neutral-in-name-only field. We recall Georgia laying an egg in a Dome opener versus Boise State in 2011. This Carolina is not that Boise. Bulldogs win.

Sept. 10, Nicholls State, noon: The Colonels are based in Thibodaux, La. They finished 3-8 last season, tying for for next-to-last in the Southland Conference. They opened against Louisiana-Monroe and lost 47-0. Then they lost 20-10 to Incarnate Word. Then they lost 48-0 to Colorado, which would win only one more game. I have nothing else to say here. Bulldogs win.

Sept. 17, at Missouri, 7:30 p.m.: In 2013, Mizzou upset Georgia and won the SEC East. In 2014, the Tigers lost to Georgia and still won the SEC East. In 2015, they were 1-7 in SEC play. They finished 126th among 127 FBS teams in scoring, managing 16 touchdowns in 12 games. Gary Pinkel resigned as head coach, and he was the best thing Mizzou had going for it. Bulldogs win.

Sept. 24, at Ole Miss: The Rebels have played in a New Year’s Six bowl two years running and if not for an over-the-head Arkansas lateral on fourth-and-25 in overtime, would have played for the SEC title. They’ve lost much top-end talent – Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell — but they return Chad Kelly, maybe the SEC’s best quarterback. Bulldogs lose.

Oct. 1, Tennessee: It says much about Butch Jones’ tenure in Knoxville that his best victory came against a Georgia team that wound up firing its coach. On talent, the Volunteers were the overwhelming choice to win the SEC East. In reality, we still have to wonder if they’re stout enough to beat somebody really good on the road. A shaky guess: Yes, they are. Bulldogs lose.

Oct. 8, at South Carolina: Having lost two in a row, Georgia heads to the place where it hasn’t won since 2008. Difference is, Steve Spurrier is no longer coaching the Gamecocks. The former Bulldog and Florida flameout Will Muschamp is. Of the five Gators coaches he faced, Muschamp is the only one against whom Mark Richt had a winning record. Bulldogs win.

Oct. 15, Vanderbilt: There are years when Vandy seems halfway dangerous. This is not such a year. Derek Mason enters his third season. His Commodores are 7-17 overall, 2-16 in SEC play. The two victories came last year against Missouri and Kentucky in Nashville. Over its final five games of 2015, Vandy lost three times by 25 points or more. Bulldogs win.

Oct. 29, Florida (Jacksonville): It says something about the Gators that, coming off a 10-4 season that yielded an SEC East title, they were picked to finish third in that division. After routing Georgia in the Faton Bauta game, Florida nearly lost to Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic and did lose to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan by an aggregate score of 87-24. Bulldogs win.

Nov. 5, at Kentucky: Mark Stoops has won four SEC games in three seasons. His contract has been extended twice to run through 2019. Some Kentuckians, however, see this as the put-up or shut-up year, even though buying him out would cost $12 million. Over the past two seasons, Stoops’ Wildcats were 1-12 after Oct. 14. The victory was over Charlotte. Bulldogs win.

Nov. 12, Auburn: It was Jan. 7, 2014, when the Tigers came within 13 seconds of a national championship. It was July 16, 2015, when Auburn was picked to win the SEC by the league’s assembled media. By noon on Nov. 27, 2016, Auburn might well have fired Gus Malzahn, whose Tigers are 8-10 since Nov. 2, 2014, and are picked to finish sixth in the SEC West. Bulldogs win.

Nov. 19, Louisiana Lafayette: The Ragin’ Cajuns went 4-8 and tied for fifth in the Sun Belt last year. This broke a run of four consecutive 9-4 seasons. Mark Hudspeth isn’t a bad coach, and his team could make real noise if it upsets Boise State on Sept. 3. And it gave Kentucky a run in last season’s opener. It also lost to Ole Miss 56-15 in 2014. Bulldogs win.

Nov. 26, Georgia Tech: The Bulldogs and Smart celebrate Thanksgiving at 9-2. Know how many previous first-year Georgia coaches won nine games? None. Off the strength of six consecutive victories, we can assume that the Bulldogs have found their quarterback (Jacob Eason, surely) and are rolling. We can also assume they won’t lose to Tech. Bulldogs win.

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